A leading North-east customs specialist has welcomed measures from HMRC to support businesses during this period of economic turbulence caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, but warns that firms must maintain responsibility for meeting their compliance obligations.
Nicola Alexander, Managing Director of Bethan Customs Consultancy in Oldmeldrum, said that while HMRC are taking into account the financial impact of the pandemic, businesses must be proactive in contacting their supervising office as soon as they’re aware of any potential problems in making payments.
Support measures include the potential to delay making payment of deferred customs duties and import VAT if COVID-19 has impacted on a business’ finances and cash flow. In addition, registered importers who pay cash or an equivalent can contact HMRC to request an extension to their payment deadline.
Ms Alexander said: “While we understand that the focus for business-owners right now absolutely needs to be on looking after the health and well-being of staff and working hard to stay afloat, it is nonetheless vital that they keep on top of compliance obligations. HMRC are offering support to businesses during these turbulent times, but will still actively engage in the verification of customs activities, just by electronic means instead of visiting in person.
“Businesses need to continue complying with their customs authorisations, inclusive of the submission of Bill of Discharge reports. The terms and conditions of individual HMRC authorisations are laid out within the authorisation itself. However, if a company is no longer able to comply with a condition of the authorisation because of COVID-19, they should seek permission from their supervising office in HMRC or Border Force to temporarily vary the conditions of their authorisation.”
Ms Alexander also highlighted an important update regarding the dual running of the CHIEF and Customs Declaration Service (CDS) payment declaration systems: “HMRC have decided to extend the migration timelines and keep CHIEF open beyond December 2020. However, there are various steps that businesses must take to prepare for this (if they haven’t done so already), including ensuring that they can provide the additional mandatory data set of elements which may not be required in CHIEF.”
Finally, businesses should be mindful, she points out, that Brexit will still be going ahead regardless of the current situation, with the UK set to formally leave the EU on December 31 this year as things currently stand. “Brexit has been enshrined in law, and negotiations will still be taking place, albeit remotely. With this in mind, now is the time to be applying for authorisations such as Authorised Economic Operator, as there may not be time to complete these prior to our exit date otherwise.”